Since When?

Fresh from visiting the classroom of Haley Elementary teacher Barbara Smith, profiled in my last post, and right after learning from her that in order to do the required activities on magnetism, she spent $100 of her own money to buy magnets, so that her students wouldn’t miss this important concept, I ran across the following in the CPS Framework for Teaching Companion Guide:

Component 4e: Demonstrating Professionalism – Element 3 “Decision Making”

Definition: Teachers solve problems, maintain an open mind, and always make students’ needs a priority.

Example: Resources are depleted at a school, and a teacher lacks books for a robust classroom library. The teacher finds creative solutions including applying for grants, partnering with local charities, and running a book drive among their personal and professional network to obtain enough books for their classroom.”

CPS Framework for Teaching Companion Guide

CPS Framework for Teaching Companion Guide

Since when has it become a sign of proficient or distinguished teaching practice, the level of performance teachers are expected to achieve, not only to teach your students but also to provide their learning resources, from books to school supplies to materials for their science activities? Since when has teaching proficiency depended on applying for grants, holding drives, and dipping into your own pocket to stock your classroom with the basic necessities for learning?  Since when?  Since we, as a nation, began underfunding our schools.

What Barbara Smith did in spending her own money to better educate other people’s children is not at all unusual. A recent study found that 99.5 percent of all public school teachers spent some amount of money out of pocket, with the national average coming in at $485 per year.

In reading the “Example” of what the good teacher does, my mind screamed “that’s the taxpayer’s responsibility!” But our various governments, from city to state to federal, are consistently underfunding education and leaving teachers to make up the shortfall. That means us. The education of children in many high poverty schools is underwritten by the generosity of their teachers. How can this be either fair or right?

And, of course it isn’t. But in the absence of adequate funding for education, caring teachers do what they have for ages … they beg, borrow, and steal (from themselves) so that their students can have what they need for learning.

Given that reality, Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute provides teachers with activities they can do at little to no cost, activities using everyday items that most of us already have on hand, as well as commonly discarded items, such as packaging materials from Amazon.com or film canisters from Target. The simplest and most inexpensive things can help kids conduct scientific investigations and meet engineering challenges. Think paper clips, eggs, plastic bottles, toilet paper tubes, M&Ms, light bulbs, pennies, and dead tennis balls.  I’ve seen great science lessons done with all of these things.

Some sheets of paper and a couple of boxes of paper clips, for example, can make fine helicopters that allow a classroom full of kids to investigate drag and gravity to design a better copter.

Cheap, simple materials can generate great science inquiries.

Cheap, simple materials can generate great science inquiries.

A few dozen eggs, an old-fashioned broom, and some cardboard toilet paper and paper towel tubes can teach kids about inertia.

Ready .... set .... Go, Inertia!

Ready! Set!                                                               Go, Inertia!

We also encourage teachers to begin building collections of stuff that can be pulled out to investigate natural forces and the properties of matter.

ISI faculty member Wayne Wittenberg, one our master teachers, has a collection of spheres. He uses them to study everything from density to force and motion. His light bulb collection was a focus of a recent follow-up session for teachers at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, where participants “dissected” light bulbs.  Wayne has spent years building a collection of neat and unusual light bulbs for a great show and tell.  Think thrift stores and flea markets.

So two bits of advice for teachers who would do inquiry … start saving stuff you would normally toss or recycle and build collections of cool things.  Science “on the cheap” can still provide great learning experiences for your students. And what a terrific Earth Day lesson for kids … to see their teachers repurposing stuff for learning!

As to the rest of us, isn’t it time to stop expecting teachers to pick up the slack?  Shouldn’t we also “always make students’ needs a priority?”

~ Penny

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